The electric sci-fi dreams of my youth became the reality of my adulthood.
I think another reason why our present era has failed to come up with its own unique vision of the future is the growing conservatism of the mainstream entertainment industry, which translates into reliance in established properties, or at least in established genres and conventions. In the 80s and 90s, movies like Blade Runner and The Matrix helped solidify cyberpunk as a staple of popular culture. Today they would have been deemed far too risky to produce by production comeanies without being couched on a preexisting property or popular genre, and I think that's why you don't really see their solarpunk or biopunk equivalents being made.
In an age of spin-offs, tie-ins and sequels, starting a full new genre is a lot harder than it was before
fwiw / in case it's of any use, my personal answer to "what's next after cyberpunk" is something like "communion with like-minds far beyond our immediate social graph", which is a tedious way of saying, kinship with people we couldn't have met without technology. "the power of friendship!!" is an old clichéd trope, but with good reason, because it's eternally true and there are interesting new angles to it that emerge with the changing times
"If there is one technology we have imagined reshaping the world, it’s artificial intelligence, which is improving by leaps and bounds."
I actually think your point is generally valid, but quite a bit of cyberpunk deals with AI.
Neuromancer, one of the seminal works of cyberpunk, is heavily about AI.
Of course there's also Bladerunner and while it's iconic for its visual design, the themes investigating life and the self through AI were integral.
I always preferred the world building of Shadowrun to Cyberpunk 2020 back in the day, even as a science fantasy I thought early on it had great cyberpunk world building, and there was a sterling Shadowrun campaign called Renraku Arcology Shutdown about a huge corporate arcology taken over by its intelligent system gone wrong.
You just laid it out to beautifully! Can’t believe I missed all the signals to see this myself. I think one piece to it to consider is the quasi-nihilism. The part of the pandemic and dread arising from fascism is the collective mental sense of pessimism and hopelessness even among the middle class. The reasoning behind the prevalence of insane conspiracy theories and the religious attachments to those conspiracies are also a foundational piece of the cyberpunk heuristic. So muvh to think about now (and a good opportunity to rewatch the Blade Runners!)
In Gibson's cyberpunk books it wasn't all neon and rainy streets. The bars and restaurants and Hiltons the characters hung around didn't necessarily look futuristic. Most of it looks a lot like our world.
The Cyberpunk game and anime miss this a little -- everything looks too metal and futuristic -- although it's justified because Night City is supposed to have been a planned city
The day after Thanksgiving, a neighbor ordered McDonalds from DoorDash (or one of those) and the deliveryman, all punked out in composites, leather, and antennae on a motorcycle, pushed up his sci fi sunshades and gave me the most sorrowful look as he walked up to their porch.
"Biotech, too, is generally believed to be in a revolutionary phase. But other than the kind of biomechanical implants that are a staple of cyberpunk sci-fi, I don’t see many visions of a future where the ability to modify our own bodies, brains, and genetic codes leads to a transformed world."
I have to strongly disagree with that statement. With the cost of CRISPR coming down dramatically AND the advancement in AI, the possibilities of biotech changing the future are endless.
(But maybe I'm biased through my background in medical engineering)
The A16Z podcast “bio eats world” is a great starting point to see the future through the eyes of biology.
Noah! So good! I sometimes feel like you are the alternative timeline of my life. We read the same books. Watch the same movies. And, I came this close to pursuing macro. I took Econ 101 with Lael Brainard. It was just intimidating enough to make me a psych major!
Just listening to your podcast there with Chris Johns. I heard the segment about rabbits and I thought I’d see if she’d entertain the idea instead of a dog/cat. She Ruthlessly shut the conversation down. Any way you can chat to her for me!
I don’t know, I’m a millennial living in the big city and I don’t recognize this as my world. I do see that it’s available as a lifestyle some may choose, but it all seems too dystopian to me and you would probably run as fast as you can when you grow a bit older. The physical world still exists, and real human interaction is not going away. Maybe I’m misunderstanding what Cyberpunk is though. Will check out the show, seems fun.
Boomer ballast is a big culprit here, IMO. I don't remember anyone who was really into a cyberpunk future when I was a kid, but I do remember a blithe techno-utopianism conveyed in a global village coffeehouse/alegria design style and through the aesthetics of early Microsoft and Apple products, including Encarta. Tech's promise seemed to be that it would bring back the aesthetics and culture of personal liberation from the 60s-70s counterculture and the advancing technology of the 50s-60s jet age (think jet travel, nuclear power, hell, The Jetsons itself) and marry them in the form of the PC. To Baby Boomers who remembered those from their childhood/adolescence but who were adults in the 80s to early 2000s, when greed was good, the religious right was ascendant and stifling, and "technological advancement" meant that TVs got bigger and cheaper every year, personal computing must have seemed like a bright beacon of hope. The apolitical-ness also makes sense when you consider that the Cold War had just ended and many Boomers were affluent enough to feel like they didn't have to care much about politics.
Now it's the end of 2022 and Boomers are still the most affluent and politically influential generation in the country. It's hard for young people to articulate a vision of the future when they don't have the money or power to implement it. Most of the peers I talk to would like one like Alfred Twu's, but they may not be representative. Going forward, I think the passing of the Boomers and the changes that it will bring to the Millennial generation (mainly that some members of it will inherit a lot and be newly affluent) is going to be a big wild card.
Amazingly well said, and I agree with every part of it.
Also nice to hear and see people talking about Cyberpunk more openly nowadays!
I predict that the Koch-led corporate hegemony that has captured the Republican party will create a Western surveillance state to compete with China, using many of the same techniques the Chinese do. That is part of their agenda from having captured the US Supreme Court.
I am still dreaming of a post scarcity future like Star Trek or Iain M. Banks' Culture series. It's not even that hard to see it coming together if solar, AI and space travel all reach their emerging possibilities.
It's also not hard to see dystopian world with the ice caps melting, sea levels rising, hundreds of millions and maybe even billions displaced, with wars, famines and population loss. A sort of forced degrowth if you will.
But I need to keep hope alive that we will find a way to muddle through the next century with our society more or less intact. I worked at Wired and HotWired in the mid 90s and still read Wired for its bright and hopeful vision. My 16 year old daughter, who is punk and hip and is a theatre kid at an art school, says that working at Wired was the coolest thing I ever did. She reads Wired too.
The "real world" in season 3 of WestWorld had an interesting take on a more modern style of cyberpunk. Not aggressively dystopian, but a human dealing with a world run by indifferent algorithms where he didn't have much of a place. (Before it got wrapped up in more boring action plots). I think that's a way you could evolve cyberpunk to be more interesting, not malevolent megacorps but quasi benevolent but indifferent systems that people have to live within. Post scarcity societies where you have everything except agency
I still think the 2013 movie Her is an interesting branch in this set of artistic visions. It's an AI future, but where the AIs are our friends and lovers. It's a futuristic Los Angeles where you take the subway to the sea, and the high speed rail to Tahoe, and pedestrianize around everywhere in between, while living in a spacious apartment in a skyscraper, with ample natural light and warm wood textures everywhere. Even though it's a future of AIs, the humans very rarely stare at screens, and instead mostly have conversations with their computers. Even when playing a video game it's a 3d immersive simulation, and it's only when he's composing text that he looks at a screen (but he still does it with voice control rather than a keyboard).